The title of this afternoon’s concert is taken from that of the 1921 song by Eubie Blake and lyricist Andy Razaf, written for Shuffle Along, the first Broadway musical to break with the stereotypical minstrel tradition and dare to present African-American entertainers in other than the degrading makeup known as blackface. Blake’s great song, "Memories of You", has been a vehicle for generations of performers such as Benny Goodman, whose biographical film borrowed the title.
Even considering only the post-minstrel period commencing in the 1920s, the African-American contribution to American popular songs is profound. Interestingly, its practitioners have often shared a characteristic which William Zinsser spotted in Easy To Remember. Zinsser pointed out that Blake, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and other African-American songwriters all fashioned professional careers as pianists and bandleaders. Blake conducted Shuffle Along from the piano; Ellington’s playing cued his famous orchestra for over 40 years in nightly recitals of his distinguished instrumental compositions; Waller’s artistry was fundamental to the evolution of jazz piano even thought his comic singing and buffoonery masked his delicate but firm touch; and Waller and Ellington were both disciples of yet another seminal pianist-composer, James P. Johnson, whose Charleston is still danced in period settings of flapper skirts and beaded necklaces.
Then there are the more recent efforts of Chuck Berry, a guitarist rather than a pianist, whose songs in the 1950s and later were among the first to divert the popular song tradition into the earliest rock-and-roll hits. Whether his "School Day" goes beyond the scope of our concert and indeed our festival is the stuff of lively debate, but it is offered in the spirit of fun.